Kaput! (Venezia 196)

The small shrines around the city are apparently called capitelli, which is the same word used to describe the capitol at the top of a column.  Of course both words derive from the Latin word caput, meaning head from which capital letters, capital cities, the Capitol and more derive.  Presumably such shrines were representations of heads and then developed into busts, torsos and full length representations of respected saints.  This one has a rusting canopy to keep the rain off the divine heads and is somewhere in the vicinity of Rialto, but on a post lunch dash through the calli in pursuit of a teenager desperately following blue and white WC signs there was no time to get my bearings for the image, though I know it was taken somewhere between Campo Manin and Campo San Salvador.

Even Google Street Map was of new use to me in finding its precise location, though it did tell me there’s a shopping area in the vicinity called Merceria del Capitello.   Perhaps this research is going to my head?!





…and one for all!


Prehistoric monuments, Roman towns, Renaissance art; I do like things with a bit of history to them, and whilst I recognise the need for progress I don’t always see it as an improvement as I’ve written before about 1960’s architecture.

These values extend to language too.  It’s probably rooted in studying Latin many years ago that I’m interested in the etymology of words, they way they have grown over time through prefix and suffix, and the source of their original meaning.  With the decline in the study of Classics I find myself in the minority these days.

Look up a simple work like “bus” in the dictionary and you might be lucky to see it derives from the word omnibus, though that word is likely to be defined as an old word for bus or wagon.  You’ll be really lucky to discover that it is the Latin word meaning “for all” which was adopted as a nickname for these forms of transport in the 19th Century, probably in France.

The democratic connotations of this means of getting around became enshrined in English legal terminology when the term “the man on the Clapham omnibus” was referred to as a way of describing some mythical man of reason in the general populace.  Though recorded in a decision of Lord Justice Greer in 1932, the phrase is also supposed to date back to the 19th Century.

In the North East of England we have grown accustomed to the word “Metro” to describe the light railway system that joins Wearside and Tyneside.  Again if you were to look for this word in a dictionary it would probably define it as referring to an underground railway, such as ours or the original in Paris.  The London Underground more accurately has a Metropolitan line, pointing to the true origins of the word.  Whilst “Metropolis” may be simply the workplace of Clark Kent’s alter ego to many, or the name of Fritz Lang‘s cinematic masterpiece, it originates in Ancient Greek and means “Mother City“.

And as everyone has a mother, so the Metro in Tyneside is used by all.  As car park charges and fuel prices increase, so the attraction of a cheap rail link grows, with the spin-off that cars are left behind and we burn less carbon.  Like a mother she cares for all, making sure that kids get to school and party people get home.

She appears from nowhere to ferry people to and from work, whether manual labourer or white collared business man.  Alighting from one of carriages today I met John.  What better name to represent those who travel in this way?

BTW – if Metro means mother, what does that make a metrosexual?


Loading the wagon

The Roman Empire was a magpie; borrowing foods (lentils from Egypt), religion (Mithra from Persia) and language from those they subsumed into their boundaries.  A word that they borrowed from the Gauls, karros, meaning a wagon or cart was Latinised into carrus to refer to a Gallic wagon.  Words like car, carriage, cargo and carry have clear origins here, but what about caricature?  Strangely enough this also originates from carrus, and it’s original meaning was to “load the cart”, in other words to exaggerate or over-emphasise.

It came to refer to a drawing, painting, or silhouette which gave greater prominence to the features of an individual which were already notable; Prince Charles is forever portrayed with huge ears, for his sister Anne it is her teeth.  Like the word, the practice can be traced back to Roman times; amongst the proliferation of graffiti in Pompeii can be seen a local politician whose bald head and long drooping nose are clearly the object of ridicule.

Caricaturing continues to be popular – the centres of many tourist cities will have artists who offer to portray passers by in charcoal or chalks with either a measure of realism or a degree of exaggeration.  Their pitches are normally decorated with caricatures of celebrities that are demonstrations of their art.

As the art form that was initially believed to be truly representative (the camera never lies) it is perhaps not surprising that photo caricatures haven’t become commonplace.  That’s not to say that it can’t be done – any photographer with a little knowledge of the properties of a wide angle lens would see the possibilities this might have for exaggerating the nasal features in a portrait for example.

The ability to alter negatives goes back to the 19th Century, and in this digital age we are familiar with the abilities of photoshop and other digital editing software.  The same tools that notoriously made Kate Winslet‘s legs slimmer on the cover of GQ could be used to exaggerate other features.  I suspect many a magazine cover has resorted to a digital boob job from time to time.

So if it’s possible to create photographic caricatures, why don’t we see them?

For me the answer is that we are so used to the “truth” that a photographic represents that as soon as you distort it you lose that truth and enter the world of cartoon.  The caricaturist who draws is creating the whole, they can imagine the the image in its entirety and create something with a sense of proportion (however imbalanced).  If I were to take a photograph and elongate the the nose, I then potentially have to adjust all of the other features to make it look right.  Attempts to do this have concentrated on creating digital measurements of key features and playing with equations that keep the numbers in balance.  At that point though we’re no longer talking about an artistic talent.

My subject for today is another John, and I’m sure he’ll be pleased to know that I’m not going to give him enormous ears or a tiny head .  However before I met John another potential subject turned me down because “I’m not really even supposed to be in this town!”.  Perhaps if I’d offered a little digital manipulation…